One of the best things about the Getty Museum is its free-ness. And included in that free-ness is free use of iPods that offer audio tours of the museum. Most pieces of artwork on premises have corresponding numbers — enter the number into your iPods and get a thoughtful, scholarly analysis of said artwork.
A few pieces have a second number, and these are for the children's audio tour. Most of these are what you'd expect — interactive audio bits that point out certain aspects of the art to kids, draw comparisons between the art and things kids might relate to, and generally try to engage and inform younger visitors. It's a cool program.
But there are a couple of things, sprinkled throughout the museum, that are genuinely strange. After discovering one such instance, we took a tour of the Getty listening to the children's audio tour, to find out what oddities are flowing into the ears of the children of Los Angeles as they tour the Getty.
After wandering around looking at old French furniture with a soundtrack that went something like “Wow, what a bed! Would you like to have a bed like that?” it was a bit of a surprise to arrive in front of Hans Hoffmann's famous Hare in the Forest and have a the bunny start speaking to us from the painting in a German accent while chomping loudly. The bunny apologizes for talking while chewing, and makes a bunch of dumb jokes like saying of Emperor Rudolf II (who made Hoffmann court painter), “Rudolph loved hares, coz he was bald!!”
There's a full audio tour aimed at kids called “Demons, Angels, and Monsters: The Supernatural in Art,” mostly narrated by kids, that explores “how past cultures have viewed the supernatural, and how belief in such creatures influenced everyday life” (from the press release explaining the tour). The strange bit comes in with the simultaneous natter of “demons” from the artworks, nefarious voices that pop up here and there in the audio tour. For instance, the beginning of the audio explanation for “Polyptych with Coronation of the Virgin and Saints” begins with a girl speaking earnestly, saying “I love art, that is one thing I'll never live without,” after which a mean sounding guy comes on and says, “Yeah, whatever!” I guess he's a demon, but it's not quite clear and actually pretty funny.
None of these hold a candle, however, to the bizarreness that is the song that accompanies James Ensor's massive Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889. It was this kid's audio entry that alerted me to the strangeness possible in these kid's recordings, when my 9-year-old, listening to the song in front of the painting, exclaimed “WHAT THE?!?!?” and insisted we listen to it, prompting all in our party to fall around laughing when we heard the song.
The song, performed by local storyteller and musician Makinto, begins funny and gets funnier. “I am James Ensor, Belgium's famous painter, and I love Jesus Christ, and I love my mama!” It's hard to explain. You should just listen to it.